Another forgotten US Master. Popel was born in August 1909 in what used be be known as Austria-Hungary but is now the Ukraine. He died on december 27, 1987 in Fargo, North Dakota. He wa many times the champion of Lvov, Paris and what was billed as the Ukrainian Championship of in North America.
Popel was the nephew of a player whose name was frequently seen in old chess books: Ignatz Popiel (1863-1941). Popel learned chess as a child and played in his first tournament at age 12. He eventually was regarded as one of the important masters of pre-World War II Europe. In 1931, he earned a masters degree in French and Latin language and literature from the University at Lvov.
During WW2 Popel was the personal secretary to Andrey Sheptytsky, the Archbishop of the Ukranian Catholic Church.
In 1929, Popel won th championship of Lvov, and in 1929 and 1934, he was a member of Lvov team at 1st and 2nd Polish team championships. In 1934, he was a member of Polish team at Correspondence Olympiad. In 1935-1936, he took 9th at Correspondence Championship of Poland.
Popel published his handbook Poczatki szachista (Introduction to Chess) in 1943. In that year and 1944 he also managed to win a number of samll tournaments. Then in 1944 he somehow managed to avoid deportation to Siberia during the Soviet occupation and possibly a worse fate. They shot a lot of people.
In 1944 he fled westward and wound up in Krakow. He played a match there against Dr. Fedor Bogatyrchuk (who ended up in Canada) by a score of 2-2. After the war he escaped to France.
In 1950/51, Popel won at Hastings Premier Reserve Major and in 1951 he won the 26th Paris Championship. Other achievements were:
1951/52 tied for 4th-6th at Hastings.
1953 won Championship of Paris. I
1954, won Championship of Paris.
1954 4th at Saarbrücken.
1954/55, he played at international tournament at Paris.
1955/56 2nd at Hastings Premier Reserves Major
In 1956, Popel migrated to the US where three times he won the Michigan state championships: 1957, 1958, and 1959. He also won the North Central Open at Wisconsin in 1957. AT that time this event was considered to be a major open. It was in the 1957 NCO that Bobby Fischer took 6th place.
1958 4th at North Central Open,
1958 6th at Western Open.
Both those events were won by Pal Benko
Around 1960 Popel became a professor of French language and literature at North Dakota State University in Fargo. He champion of North Dakota eleven times from 1965 to 1980.
1966, 2nd at a championship of Ukrainian Sport Centrale of America & Canada.
1969, won championship of USCA&C.
1970, 3rd at North Central Open.
1986, tied for 5th-8th at a championship of USCA&C.
Popel died in 1987 and is buried at Fargo. His childhood town of Lvov hasn’t forgotten him and in 1996 hosted their first International Chess Tournament in memory of Stepan Popel.
Here’s an exciting game against New York Master John T. Westbrock played in the 1969 U.S. Open.